Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own Sam or Dean. If I did, there would be a lot more moments like this and the show would suck. Probably best to just leave them in Kripke's capable hands...

Author's note: Lonely, tired, depressed. This was the result. Warning... May rot your teeth out...

For the fourth night in a row, Dean laid awake watching Sam sleep. Well, sleep was a generous word for the agonized unconscious state that that left his little brother tossing and turning, moaning and honest-to-God whimpering every night this week. The moans were bad enough, but the pitiful, pained wounded-puppy sound both broke Dean's heart and set his teeth on edge.

For the first few times, he had tried waking Sam up at the first sign of a nightmare. It wasn't in Dean's nature to simply let his brother suffer when there was some way to stop it. But barely ten seconds before closing his eyes it began all over again. Dean could either keep Sam awake for the rest of his life, or learn to deal with the nightly torture. For both of them. It was harder than he had imagined.

Another gut-ripping whimper escaped Sam's lips, his face drawn tight in anguish. "Jess… So sorry, baby… please…" Another whimper, and then, barely audible, in a whisper of a whisper, "Forgive me…"

Dean made a face. How was he supposed to just sit here and ignore that? He'd rather face a shape-shifter with his hands tied behind his back. Blindfolded. With a broken leg. Finally, unable to take anymore, he pushed himself upright from his bed and moved to the other one.

Sam barely grunted when Dean scooted him over to lay beside him. When they were kids, it was often the only way to calm the nightmares. Back then it had simply been a method of shutting him up, a way for Dean to make sure that he got a little sleep and that his brother's late-night ramblings didn't keep him up all night. Back when his nightmares had been about stupid fears, being afraid of things they could easily kill and move on from. Before the faces in the nightmares became real, and capable of inflicting such a tremendous amount of pain on him. So now, fifteen years later, he could admit to himself that he was doing this for Sam's sake, not his own.

Sam calmed down quickly, the other presence easing him into something resembling peace. And it suddenly struck Dean as so wrong that the body giving Sam comfort and peace was that of his brother. Sam wanted- Sam deserved- better than that. He deserved the nice, normal apple-pie life that he had dreamed about since he was old enough to realize they were different. He deserved to come home from his office in his suit and tie and kiss Jessica while they fixed dinner together. He deserved to coach his son's little league games on Saturdays and soccer and basketball too. He deserved to watch his little girl's dance recitals and to lift her in the air after it was over and tell her she looked just like a princess. He deserved family vacations at the beach, sunburns and sandcastles and poking jellyfish with a stick. He deserved to bake cookies at Christmas, and have Jess smack his hand because he was eating the dough rather than waiting for the cookies. But most of all, he deserved to have her, the true love of his life laying beside him, smoothing down his unruly hair and wiping the sweat from his brow when the nightmares (nightmares about mundane things, from the scary movie they shouldn't have let the kids watch the night before) invaded his otherwise peaceful sleep.

Tears flooded the elder Winchester's eyes at that image, the life his brother had dreamed about. He saw it, plain as day. Sam all dressed up as a hot-shot lawyer. Wearing a ball cap, standing on the pitchers mound, tossing the ball to a young boy with dark hair and bright green eyes. Hugging a little girl in an obnoxiously pink tutu before sitting her up on his shoulders. Swimming trunks with sharks on them, building a sandcastle at the beach, his shoulders and cheeks already turning pink because he remembered to put sunscreen on the kids but not on himself. Wearing a hideous Christmas sweater that Jess's Aunt Gertrude had knitted for him at one point, sneaking one last bite of the cookie dough before Jess caught him and whacked his hand with a wooden spoon. He grins and pulls her close for a kiss with his left hand, while stealing more cookie dough with his right. Startled awake, sweat drying on his face, but she is there to make all the pain and fear fade instantly in a way that Dean can never do. God, he would give anything in this world and the next to give his baby brother that life.

Dean had never wanted that. He had never felt the need for that fairy-tale "normal" Sam had been chasing all his life. In fact, the only thing appealing about the fantasy he had just indulged in was the happy, peaceful smile on his brother's face. On the surface, they were even. Dean had four years of that life, before the demon had killed Mom, before he knew that there really were monsters under his bed (and everywhere else too). Sam had four years of normal at Stanford. The difference was that while Dean hadn't known any different, and was too young to remember most of it, Sam had reveled in it, thrived on it. And it had been ripped from him in the cruelest way either of them could imagine. The same way Dean's normal life had been ripped from him.

Sam whimpered again, and Dean unconsciously ran his fingers through Sam's hair, soothing him. But what was so great about normal, anyway? Even with that storybook life, there was no guarantee of "Happily Ever After". Jess could have been having an affair with Sam's business partner, left him, took the kids, and put him through another version of Hell. Or worse, kids get hurt, sick, even die. They saw it way too often. Children make such good victims because they aren't very strong. The "normal" life still includes crime, infidelity, illness, accidents, crushed hopes, broken dreams. Sam never saw that side of things. Dean was the one who saw this part. The things he wanted nothing to do with. The pain that comes with hunting is nothing compared to the pain the normal people could go through. Maybe Sam's fairy-tale life would have ended in divorce lawyers or heart-wrenching medical decisions. But maybe not. Maybe Sam would have been one of the ones who actually made it. And Dean wished to hell he'd had a chance to try. The reason Dean did what he did was so that other people could have that safe existence. But he couldn't give it to the most important person in his life.

Looking down at his brother, who had settled down and seemed to be sleeping peacefully at last, he said what he could never say to a conscious Sam. "I'm so sorry, little brother. I know you loved her. I know you wanted more than a hunter's life. And I'd die to be able to give you that. 2.5 kids, white picket fence, dog in the yard. Wish I could get that for you, bro, like I got Dad to let you play soccer in junior high. Wish it was that easy."

With that, Dean slid down onto the bed, pulled the covers up around himself and Sam, as the earlier thrashing had left them in a pile around Sam's knees, and closed his eyes. After several minutes, his breathing evened out. Another five minutes past before Sam dared to open his eyes. Dean would kill him if he knew Sam had heard that. Sam took in his brother's haggard face, knowing that Dean hadn't been sleeping any better than he had. "I know you would, Dean. And the fact that you can't doesn't take away from that any. Thanks." He paused for a moment, looking at the ceiling, knowing that somewhere in his subconscious Dean heard him. Maybe they've eventually be able to have these conversations when both of them were awake. Then again, maybe pigs would sprout wings and eat all the pigeons, then Dean wouldn't have to scrub pigeon crap off the Impala. "And just so you know, I would have named my son Dean."

With that, he turned over, smiling as even in his sleep, Dean's hand fell on Sam's shoulder. And they both lived happily ever after. Well, maybe not. But they both slept peacefully for the rest of the night.